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Judge Taken Off Everglades Case Following Complaints

September 24, 2003|From Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A federal judge who presided over the Everglades' restoration for more than a decade was removed from the case Tuesday following sugar growers' complaints that he favored environmental groups.

U.S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler's removal by his superior was a victory for U.S. Sugar Corp., which led the fight against Hoeveler.

The company contended Hoeveler had become too politically involved, criticizing state lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush over a new law that delays cleanup of phosphorus pollution from sugar farms and suburban sprawl.

Phosphorus feeds the growth of cattails, which choke out the Everglades' native plants and wildlife.

In his order removing Hoeveler, Chief U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch said his comments in newspaper articles cast doubt on his "continued impartiality."

Hoeveler, 81, said he didn't want to comment.

Environmental groups denounced the removal, praising Hoeveler's years of policing the complex lawsuit intended to restore the Everglades to its days as a free-flowing, slow-growth marsh. Hoeveler oversaw the original 1992 agreement between Florida and the government to clean up the Everglades.

"I think Judge Hoeveler will go down in history as an American hero. He wanted the Everglades to be there for our grandchildren," said Jonathan Ullman, Everglades representative for the Sierra Club.

In a statement, U.S. Sugar Senior Vice President Robert Coker praised Hoeveler as "a great judge with a long and distinguished career" who had become unfairly influenced against the company's interests.

The judge, also known for sending Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega to prison, was appointed to the federal bench in 1977.

The Everglades case will be assigned to another judge under a random system.

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